China’s Xinhua News Agency has blamed the Hong Kong democratic camp’s primary election and the July 1 protest for triggering the third wave of coronavirus, as the city hit record high infections over the weekend. Top medics, meanwhile, have said that the local government’s growing list of groups and people exempt from quarantine measures may be the “biggest loophole.”
In an editorial published on Sunday evening, China’s state-run news wire said the timing of the Covid-19 resurgence in Hong Kong coincided with political activities organised by the opposition camp. It pointed the finger at the democrat primary election last weekend, when over 610,000 Hongkongers – according to the organisers – cast their votes to narrow the list of pro-democracy candidates to run in the 2020 Legislative Council Election.
The agency criticised the organisers for setting up more than 250 polling stations across the city amid Covid-19 fears. They cited an unnamed person who said one of the voting venues was only one street away from the Tuen Mun Eye Centre, where three clerks were confirmed to have the virus on Saturday.
Joe Lai of pro-Beijing party DAB told the agency that areas in Kowloon East had been hit hard by the outbreak because of the primary election: “This is absolutely irresponsible behaviour, it must be severely condemned.”
Xinhua also laid blame on the protest against the Beijing-enacted national security law on July 1, when thousands of Hongkongers defied a police ban to march in Causeway Bay and Wan Chai.
“They disregarded the lives and safety of citizens to gather crowds for political gain multiple times, and created the biggest loophole in the anti-epidemic efforts,” the article read.
Two other state-owned newspapers Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po made similar accusations over the weekend and said the opposition camp was pushing the city towards a “mutual destruction.”
Hong Kong registered 108 new cases on Sunday, pushing the city’s tally to 1,885 infections. The figure now surpasses the 1,755 cases of SARS seen during the 2003 epidemic. 35 patients were linked to previous local clusters, but health authorities have struggled to trace the sources of 45 other locally acquired infections.
At least four of the new patients attended a banquet on July 9, the Centre for Health Protection revealed on Saturday. Local media reported that the dinner party was in celebration of the city’s handover to China, with members of pro-Beijing groups and delegates of China’s top political consultative body among the participants.
Local media uncovered online videos that showed more than 40 unmasked participants singing and dancing during the banquet.
Last week, leading medical experts Yuen Kwok-yung and David Hui said the government’s policy of exempting certain groups from compulsory quarantine was the “biggest loophole” in battling the new wave of Covid-19.
The current exemption rules cover 33 types of inbound travellers from the mainland, Macau and Taiwan. The list includes cross-boundary goods vehicle drivers, aircraft crew members who commute to and from the three areas and government officials who are carrying out their duties. It also includes executives from hundreds of companies listed on local and mainland stock exchanges.
Hui, an infectious disease expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), told iCable News that the exempted persons were not required to leave their samples for Covid-19 testing, thus they may bring the virus into communities.
“There is a loophole on the borders, and some infected persons may enter the city. These loopholes have been pointed out before, but it was not improved,” said Hui, who is among the experts that advise the government’s anti-epidemic steering committee.
Yuen, on the other hand, suspected that “patient zero” could be a taxi driver who carried passengers from the airport.
“It is very likely that the patient took a taxi and infected the driver. The driver then spread the virus when eating at different restaurants and that led to a community outbreak,” he said.
In response, the government hit back and said it was a “misunderstanding.” It defended the exemption arrangements by arguing that it was necessary for maintaining social and economic operation, as well as ensuring an “uninterrupted supply” of daily necessities to the public. The spokesperson added there have not been any Covid-19 infections among the exempted persons arriving from the three regions.
“It is necessary for the quarantine exemption arrangement to be in place to ensure the normal operation of Hong Kong on all fronts under the epidemic… The categories of persons exempted under the regulations are essential personnel,” the government said in a statement on Sunday.